A week ago today my dad retired after 53 years, at the ripe old age of 77. He will now spend the rest of his living years driving my mom crazy on a full-time basis.
(Wait, you didn't think this was about me, did you? Damn misleading headlines).
Tonight: A's at Giants in the first game of the Bay Bridge Series. 7:15 start.
Ernest Marquez was born on January 14, 1932 in Raton, New Mexico. That very same day Babe Ruth rejected a $70,000 offer from the New York Yankees. Even Major League Baseball was affected by the Great Depression, as the sport vowed to cut salaries by $1 million. The Sultan of Swat had demanded $80,000 following the '31 season, which would have surpassed the $75,000 cashed in by Commander-in-Chief, Herbert Hoover. When pushed for an explanation Ruth replied "I had a better year than the President."
Better in '32, too: Ruth's Yanks swept Series; Hoover lost election in a landslide.
At Raton High School, Dad made a name for himself in football and basketball, but while he was never seen around the baseball diamond, he followed the National Pastime closely, particularly the St. Louis Cardinals and Stan "The Man" Musial.
Dad enlisted in the Navy at the age of 19, and it is there he met Walter DePrater, who was married to my mom's sister Fran. My parents were briefly introduced for the first time when Dad was on leave and had accompanied Walt to Fran's home in East Oakland in 1953. Mom was just a junior in high school at the time, but one look at the lanky sailor from Raton, New Mexico turned out to be enough: "I knew from that day that I was going to marry him."
Mom must have made some impression on Dad because upon re-boarding his ship- the USS Yorktown- he sent her a letter to ask if they could go out on a date when he got back. It took a month or two just to get her reply, which of course, was "yes". Now my father is not the most patient man in the world, so the waiting for Mom's response must have been absolute torture. These days, if a few minutes pass between e-mails or IM, I start to hyperventilate.
Oh, I kid.
Sailor's Delight: Storekeeper Marquez aboard the USS Yorktown in the 1950's.
Soon Dad was writing to her every day, to the point where my Grandpa Abel would tease Mom about how the poor mailman had to make extra trips to the house to lug all those letters (they'd sometimes arrive a dozen or two at a time).
Their first "date" was on Easter Sunday, and they attended services together at St. Patrick's Church in Oakland. Sister Rose Elizabeth noticed the young man with Mom from her seat in the choir, and questioned her on it afterwards. "Oh, he's just a friend", Mom lied to the nun. Later they went to my grandparent's home for dinner. Before allowing Dad an alcoholic beverage, his future father-in-law asked for ID. A year or so later, Dad would ask him for his daughter's hand. In Spanish. (Ay, que romantico!)
My parents were married in the summer of '56, and have been living in the same home off Davis Street in San Leandro for the last forty-five years.
After his four years in the Navy were up, Dad went to work at Fruehauf- a trailer parts company in Oakland- where he stayed for 35 years until the firm moved out of the area. From there he caught on with Coast Counties Peterbilt in San Leandro where he was employed for the last 19 years before hanging ‘em up last week.
I wouldn't say I was close to Dad growing up. When you're the seventh of eight kids, and the youngest of four boys, you sort of get lost in the shuffle.
Besides, a father's role was so much different back then. They weren't expected to spend "quality time" with their children. The things that I remember about Dad was that he always got to eat first, was always first to read the sports page, and was the one to put the Christmas lights on the tree. Though it always took him awhile to untangle them, and he often used words not fitting of the season.
By the time I was born, Dad had mellowed out some. My older brothers talk about the beatings they would take from him, but rare was it for me to feel the sting of my father's hand. Not so much because I was an angel, but because his booming voice was enough to keep me in check. Except that one time when my brother Abel and I had discovered our second wind well past bedtime:
Dad (bursting into the room): "I don't want to hear another peep!"
(Silence, followed by door slowly closing. Please don't say it, just let it go, man...)
The events immediately following my act of
bravery stupidity are somewhat fuzzy, and I don't mean fuzzy, warm; I mean fuzzy, blurry. Aside from that close and personal encounter, I also bonded with Dad on my annual trips to the emergency room (let's just say I was kinda accident-prone).
Although it seemed that my father was always at work, he did actually find time to spend with his kids, often piling us into his Ford station wagon for camping trips and drive-in movies. And, of course, A's games.
I don't know of anyone who gives up on a game- or a season- as swiftly as Ernie Marquez. To him every A's batter is a rally killer; every opposing pitcher is Cy Young. Oh yeah, Dad would be real popular here. But when the team is doing well, they're his A's. He frustrates the hell out of Mom and my sisters, but I'm used to it by now. It's just who he is.
Back when autograph seeking was a matter of beating a player to his automobile, Dad would do anything to gain an edge. He'd speak broken Spanish to guys like Bert Campaneris, and would toss pieces of paper through the window of a player's car- as they were driving away! He'd yell out after them, "Do it for the kids!" Sometimes his methods- as unorthodox as they may have been- actually worked.
Although I was too young to gain anything from them, Dad always came through with playoff and World Series tickets during Oakland's first dynasty. You don't want to sit next to him at games though. Chances are he'll say something out-of-line to a fan of the opposing team. Especially if that fan happens to be overzealous with his (or her) support.
The nine months since I started my own company, I have looked forward to Wednesday. Dad had an account that he serviced down the street from us, so he would stop by and say hello. The last few times he'd bring lunch from Mom, and we'd sit and eat and talk about the business. Sometimes the conversation would turn to our favorite baseball team.
Yesterday he brought Mom with him, but there will come a Wednesday when Dad doesn't stop by. He's newly retired, and has other places to go, other people to see. And I will surely miss those times.
But the man has long since paid his dues. All that remains is to ride off into the sunset with that woman he convinced to marry him some 53 years ago.